July 19, 2013

The Spanish Prisoner Redux: On Finn Brunton’s Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet 0


A colorful assortment of international tradespeople, drug-pushers, swindlers, and fraudsters, spammers have become a familiar feature of our digital landscape.

July 18, 2013

Excavating and Restitching Myth: On Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane 4


When the supernatural is put aside, this is a tale of the horrors and uncertainty of growing up. The monsters are the trappings of maturity: adult’s fixations with money, sex, and power, and the lies they tell, especially the most important one of all — that adults know and understand the world.

July 16, 2013

Lyrical Gangster: Charlie Smith’s Men in Miami Hotels 3


Trying to find a name for Charlie Smith’s genre or style, I come up with “Disordered Lives of the Poets.” But how to pigeonhole this new novel? Lapsarian Lyric? Casuarina Crime? Key Noir? James Wood would think of something good.

July 11, 2013

Motherless Tacoma: On Eric Barnes’s Something Pretty, Something Beautiful 0


Cars are freedom, stories are everything, and home is thick with ghosts.

July 3, 2013

The Last of the Comanches: Philipp Meyer’s The Son 5


Meyer’s aim is not to condemn white settlers or the founders of the Republic of Texas, any more than he seeks to condemn the Comanche or the Mexicans. But neither does he defend them, and everyone, in his telling, comes away with blood on their hands.

July 2, 2013

Punk, Revolutionary Nonfiction, and Sarah McCarry’s Guillotine Chapbook Series 1


1991 may be known as the year punk broke but 2013 may soon become the year of its canonization.

June 27, 2013

Not Really a Book About Trains As Such: Tim Parks’s Italian Ways 2


And despite all Parks’s entertaining kvetching about the excessive chattiness of fellow passengers and the gratuitous complexities of the ticketing system, Italian Ways is unmistakably an expression of love for his adopted country and its people. The close confinement of the train compartment becomes a metaphor for a society, in all the ways it does and does not work.

June 24, 2013

The Young Magician, Practicing His Tricks 1


The effect of The Savage Detectives is to blur the line between history and fiction, to envelop whatever Bolaño and his friends actually did in Mexico in the 1970’s in a self-aggrandizing, romanticized cloud of smoke – and we imagine all of his poetry, written so many years ago in a notebook lost somewhere in Mexico, must have been really good. But it turns out that Bolaño’s juvenile writing reads very much like juvenile writing.

June 18, 2013

A Genre Is Born: The Babylon Rite Slaughters Its Darlings 0


Walter Benjamin would have loved this guy Tom Knox. He didn’t just dissolve a genre. He poured half a dozen genres into a literary Waring blender and hit the puree button.

June 14, 2013

The Silence Artist: On The Selected Letters of Willa Cather 5


Cather was one of nature’s miracles, possessed from an early age of an unaccountable conviction that she was meant for something. Yes, she was female, and she lived in Nebraska. The world of letters was a long way away in every sense. Cather could not have been unaware of these facts. But as Joan Acocella puts it, Cather simply opened the door to artistic freedom and walked through it.